IF ISLANDERS WIN (SOON), THEY WILL BUILD ITWang, Snow still have time to prove NYI are serious

Botta at the NY Times: The Monday Skate

Gretz at FanHouse: Tedenby Burns the NYI

 

When you take a few steps back, this really isn’t very complicated, my friends. We know the Islanders are committed to fulfilling the terms of their lease and will play at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum through the 2014-15 NHL season.

 

Which essentially means this: they have two, maybe three more full seasons to build a winner, regain the trust of their fans, improve the season ticket base to close to 10,000 and win over more of the public of New York – not just the die-hards who, bless them, have been there through thin and thinner. Do this and there’s little chance the politicians will ever let them leave Nassau County.

 

Certainly, Garth Snow has the ability to complete this slow and often unsteady rebuild in the next two years. Led by a future 40-goal scorer in John Tavares, the Islanders have a strong-enough prospect pool of players 20 and younger that will become even deeper at the June draft. In players such as Kyle Okposo, Andrew MacDonald, Frans Nielsen and Mark Streit, they also have their fair share of young veterans in or approaching their primes. By only asking Wang at this point to dig even deeper for players he identifies as crucial (can we agree that Paul Martin did him a favor turning down $6 million a year?), Snow should have plenty of cash in reserve to acquire impact veterans through free agency or trade.

 

The Islanders made their mistakes over the last six months, but have also endured a bewildering amount of misfortune. There is no reason why, with some wise roster adjustments this summer, they cannot be legitimate contenders for a playoff berth next season. Perhaps they should reach even higher. There is enough talent to work with.

 

The Islanders have two, maybe three full seasons to become a very good team because logic would dictate that Charles Wang needs to know by the summer of 2013 where his hockey club will be playing in October of 2015. An arena in Queens or Suffolk (or anywhere else) can be built in two years. If three years were needed, Wang – despite comments about not playing in the arena for one more second than they have to – could work out a one-year deal for his club to play at the NVMC in 2015-16.

 

By 2013, the Islanders must win over the public in profound ways. It cannot just be another eighth-place finish and first-round ouster. Progress must be shown on and off the ice. There cannot be another article in Newsday with pictures of empty seats and declarations that things are really bad this time in Islanders Country. (As the team’s PR director, I managed at least three rounds of articles like this in Newsday, the Times, Post, Daily News and countless other outlets in a ten-year period between 1995-2006. Even the authors of Sunday’s piece would acknowledge none of this was news in the pure meaning of the concept).

 

Neither is this: the Islanders must become a very good ice hockey club, no excuses. If they do, they will have no problem rallying a fortified fanbase to support their cause for a major arena development. They will face far less resistance from politicians in reaching an agreement on a first-class arena (and whatever else they want to negotiate) for Nassau, Long Island and New York State. Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Wang…it will be time for the two of you this spring to have a conversation.

 

You do understand how easy it is for Kate Murray to maintain her stance, and giggle a little, when the Islanders are losing 20 of 21 games, right? This can’t happen next season. It won’t happen next season.

 

It used to be, “Build it and they will come.” As proven by many sports franchises over the last decade, that’s now as much a fantasy as the movie the phrase was written for. If the Islanders win, you’ll see how much easier it will be to get their way.  

 

In April of 2000, Wang honorably stated that he wanted to fix the hockey team before discussing real estate with the politicians. To his credit, after one horrendous year he spent a great deal of money and the Islanders made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons from 2001 – 2004. However, the club lost in the first round each time, a trio of very good defensemen (Kenny Jonsson, Adrian Aucoin and Roman Hamrlik) left town or country, the magic that came with 11-1-1-1 and the Toronto seven-game series never stuck and the Islanders have not been very good since. Between the losing and the lockout, and then the busted economy, the timing has never been right from a PR perspective to have anyone but the glorious die-hards on the Islanders’ side – especially for a massive project like the Lighthouse.

 

But there is still time left on the clock. The Islanders have talent, plenty of it young and developing. The loyal fans – even the ones in the newspaper saying they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore – will still be there. Check the pageviews of any blog or website that mentions the Islanders; there are tens of thousands of potential customers dying for motivation to come back.

 

Win, and they will. Complete the construction of a winner over the next few years, and watch the Islanders stay in Nassau County.

 

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In a 5-3 win over Buffalo on Saturday, John Tavares scored three goals. It never gets old seeing Tavares rejoice like he did after completing the hat trick because – as many people not close to the team may not know – he is a shy young man.

 

The Islanders got screwed out of a goal today by P.A. Parenteau late in the second period, giving the team and the fans the diversion of focusing their wrath at the Keystone Cops officiating crew led by Bill McCreary (or “Billy,” as Dwayne Roloson calls him). My hunch is McCreary and company were afraid of becoming a joke, after the infamous non-call on Colton Orr when he ran over Tomas Vokoun in Toronto several weeks ago. Instead, they become a joke because they held a non-traditional conference at center ice to get the call right – they had already let the goal stand – and reversed it, getting it wrong.

 

But none of the referee comedy stylings change the fact that the Islanders were losing to New Jersey – the league’s worst team – by the score of 5-2 late in the second period. (The final was 5-2). None of it changes the fact that the Islanders fell behind 3-0. None of it changes the fact that goal scorers Parenteau and Michael Grabner were the best Islanders in the game, arguably the only good Islanders in the game.

 

The Islanders jumped on the ice today and could have been looking in the mirror at their opponent. The Devils changed their coach and were just as bad for a few weeks under the new one. The Devils had become the joke of the league. Written off as out of the playoff race, New Jersey started playing without pressure as Jacques Lemaire worked on getting the smiles back on their faces. Winning does that.

 

So the Devils played free and loose and, except for a five-minute span in the second period, were better than the Islanders. When it was over, the Islanders’ run of three home games against Ottawa, Buffalo and New Jersey ended with just one win.

 

The better-than-.500 hockey over the last four weeks is a decent start, but not nearly enough to get excited about. (Yesterday on Twitter, an incredible fan named Billy P asked if I was ready to reconsider Blake Comeau as more than a good third-line player because he was going to eclipse 50 points this season. “A good third-line player on a contending team”? I tweeted back). Kyle Okposo’s return is another important step. Positive strides are important in January and February, a lot more than draft positioning. But in all likelihood, what I wrote about above will really come down to how Islanders management operates in the coming offseason and how the team plays from beginning to end in 2011-12.

 

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The following, courtesy of an email from Drew B. (more famously known as “Tavares” from Islander Mania), is a stat comparison of the first 40 games of the sophomore seasons of Steven Stamkos and John Tavares:

 

Stamkos: 40 games: 21 goals, 16 assists, 37 points

Tavares: 40 games: 18 goals, 15 assists, 33 points

 

Stamkos went on to score 51 goals last season. Settle down, Beavis: no one is saying Tavares will do that. But it’s notable, nonetheless, and 35-40 is within reach.

 

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Rick DiPietro was given a second straight “day off” today after beating Buffalo on Saturday. Kevin Poulin got the start, and then the Islanders proceeded to help him make the case that their best goaltending prospect would be better served in Bridgeport, which is the plan – if DiPietro’s health allows it.

 

But DiPietro getting another day off? Not news. This is going to be a fact of life for a long time.

 

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Finally, my personal thanks go out to Anthony Condoleo of Hicksville and Chris Anderson of Seaford. I don’t know if we’ve ever met before, and I also don’t know what I can say or do to thank you enough for that kind of support. I woke up Sunday morning to a lot of text messages to turn to page 4 of Newsday. In a strange, strange season, you gave me quite a surprise. My hope is that one day, somehow I will be able to re-pay my debt to you and Point Blank readers everywhere.